Should He/She Be Teaching?

I’m usually a pretty nice person, but what I’m about to write might be considered by some to be somewhat mean.

I was friendly with a woman in college. She had the same major as I did — English Education. She was a sweet girl, but let’s be blunt — she was dumb as a rock. The prospect that she would be a teacher used to make me feel very uncomfortable, and I would never have wanted her to teach my children. She wasn’t smart enough to be a teacher, in my opinion.

I can’t remember where, but in the EduBlogsphere of late (I would appreciate links, if you have them), I have seen more than one post about education majors having low test scores and grades compared to students in other disciplines. The implication is “those who can’t, teach,” and as a teacher, I just know that you are not going to make it if you aren’t intelligent. You won’t be able to answer student questions. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” If you have to say it all the time, then one must wonder why you’re in front of a classroom. Teachers have to know something in order to teach it, don’t they?

My friend didn’t make it as a teacher very long. I reconnected with her when I was back in college finishing my degree. She complained to me about an English Education professor she said was “mean” to her, who had discouraged her at every turn. I couldn’t bring myself to say so, because I am just not that direct when I know it could be hurtful, but the thought definitely crossed my mind that her English Education professor was trying to do the best thing for both that woman and her future students and convince her that she wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. Predictably, she lasted about year and quit teaching. I wonder about the high statistics involved with teachers.

According to research by Richard Ingersoll, a professor of sociology at the University of Georgia, 11 percent of teachers leave the occupation after one year on the job. After two years, 21 percent have quit; after five years, 39 percent have quit.

I agree that it is sad that so many teachers quit because they feel a lack of support. I myself have been in that situation, and it is absolutely insufferable. I can remember hating my teaching job so much that I cried on the way to work, especially after a break, and I checked off days in the calendar so I could say to myself that I made it through one more day and was one day closer to the end of the year. It is a sad state of affairs when adminstrations allow discipline problems to become so pervasive that teachers feel as if students run the schools, and it is equally sad when teachers are blamed for those problems instead of supported and assisted.

I included this information to make it clear that I am not saying that I believe a majority or even a sizable percentage of teachers quit because they can’t cut it intellectually. But there must be some, and I do wonder what part of that percentage they make up. There is a notion that teachers are not intelligent, and it doesn’t come from nowhere. And what do you do if you have a colleague that doesn’t cut it? I’m not sure there is really anything you can do, except complain about it (not necessarily to the administration).

I think one way we can solve the problem is to make teachers a part of the hiring process. After all, we are the ones who will be working most closely with these potential colleagues. Should we not have a say in who those colleagues will be? Some schools have implemented this sort of hiring process, and I myself have been involved. I think I could have interviewed my friend for about five minutes and discovered she wasn’t going to work out. I don’t think principals can always do this alone, especially if they are interviewing someone outside their discipline.

7 thoughts on “Should He/She Be Teaching?”

  1. I was searching for classroom blogs to find out what other educators are doing with them in their classrooms and stumbled upon your site. It's 2:24 in the morning where I am and I should be in bed, but felt compelled to respond.

    Yes, it is true that many education majors just don't have what it takes. I am shocked and appalled at the level of math and english proficiency expected of elementary education majors (in that it is so low as to be laughable). At the same time, however, there are incredibly gifted teachers graduating as well. I am a recent graduate (have only been teaching for three years now), and am fully aware of the attrition rates in the education field. This attrition rate is due to both poor teacher preparedness and good teachers leaving the education field due to work conditions, higher wages/benefits, and on a more positive note, new & excitng opportunities. My husband is one such teacher. He has taught for 8 years (band/orchestra), earned a state-wide reputation for his music programs, and earned a masters in Distance Education. At 29, he is now embarking on enrolling full time in law school. Unless one wants to pursue administration, there is no upward mobility in teaching and very few incentives (other than job security) to stay. There is the children… but with the brunt of the responsibility shouldered on the teacher regarding student performance (and little regard for home life) along with NCLB's affect on the teaching community, I feel that schools are going to find themselves loosing more and more outstanding teachers, and find themselves saddled with subpar teachers that will stick the system out because it's "easy."

    I teach fourth grade (gifted and talented along with regular education) and try to hold my students to a high standard. I feel that our current educational system does not encourage teachers to hold their students to a high standard. Nor does it reward teachers who spend many hours creating rigorous curriculum for their students. Instead, educators and "baby sitters" are paid the same.

  2. I agree with everything you said. I tried to be rigorous enough with my middle schoolers, and instead I was told that I needed to dumb down expectations.

    You are right — we have some incredibly gifted people leaving the profession, too. And I don't want to be an administrator, so where am I going? Promotion? Those don't happen for teachers, do they?

  3. It was my hope that the new call for HIGHLY QUALIFIED teachers would weed out those currently teaching who do not have a handle on the material they are meant to teach. That was the idea, wasn't it? Every teacher a highly qualified teacher? Well, to become highly qualified in my county, one need only commit to attending 8 weeks of 3 hour classes…. no test, just turn in your notebook to prove your skilllevel. There is no chance this will ensure one is indeed highly qualified in any sense of the word. The process merely rewards those who are able to survive sitting and listening for an extended time each week. Amazing.

  4. Ms. Ris, you said it. It's too true of too many ed. programs. When I posted this, I was bracing for backlash. I have been surprised by the support. Guess I'm not alone in my feelings about this.

  5. I too have taught at a school with an unsupportive administration. I taught at an at-risk middle school for a year, and it nearly drove me from the profession. The principal told me that I could look into transferring, but she didn't believe I would have the wherewithal to follow through on it, and when I did, she claimed to have never told me I could. I managed the transfer, and as fate would have it she was "creatively reassigned" to a central office position the next year after a fight broke out at 8th grade field day and it turned out there were no administrators present. Perhaps my proudest moment was when, just 23 years old, I told her that I was very disappointed to hear what she had to say, and that she would have to replace me the next year whether I was allowed to transfer or not (and then I ran out of the room so that she wouldn't see me cry). I am now the tenth grade honors teacher at an average high school, but I didn't get my position without some intrigue and without fending off the machinations of other teachers.

    I also have taught with unqualified and, many times, unprofessional teachers. One English teacher at my school had a poster on her cart with unprofessional pictures of herself. It was labelled, "What [first name] Rely's On." Yes, she's an English teacher! After she cursed at a student and after reports of her not teaching anything, the administration went through the process of considering her for termination but ultimately chose not to. Instead, she was made to move out to the trailers and given classes she didn't want.

    In my department there seems to be an anti-intellectual bend. The majority of the teachers 30 and up did not go to nationally recognized universities and do not have their master's degrees. They seem to think that AP and honors courses should be assigned based on length of tenure, not on education (or even having taken such a class oneself). I am involved in a Julius Caesar-like battle right now to head off the efforts of the retiring AP teacher to keep a newer teacher (who went to the top ranked public university in the country and who has her master's) from taking over the courses upon her retirement. The retiring teacher (who will be referred to as TV, which is short for "the viper") told the department chair that my friend was planning on moving, which was a flat-out lie. Then TV sent an uncertified, first-year teacher who only has a bachelor's to the AP conference and gave her all of her materials (this new teacher happens to be a former student of TV). Now that the department chair has said that my friend is the clear choice out of the two, TV told the principal that my friend didn't take AP herself (she did!) and has been soliciting interest from other teachers to also throw their hats in the ring, including the "Rely's On" teacher. (By the way, my friend was told in 2004 that she would be the next AP teacher). What in the world is going on? If we weren't returning her volleys one by one, I actually believe the non-certified teacher would get them. And the outcome is still uncertain.

    Can you tell I am a bit frustrated tonight? I wish I worked in a meritocracy, but I don't. In fact, as far as the pack is concerned, competence and intelligence are just liabilities. What seems to happen at my school is that all the competent teachers eventually transfer to schools with higher average socio-economic status. The teachers who stay behind are the ones who don't have the credentials to be hired at a school like that or the few whose hearts are big enough, and whose skins are thick enough, to stick around for the kids. This was readily apparent at my old middle school where at least 1/3 of the staff left each year.

    P.S. We read about your husband's blog in my journalism class (we discussed the role that blogs have played in investigative journalism recently in cases like Taylor Behl or, on a larger level, the Killian documents).

  6. Wow, Mrs. L. Tough situation. You could have been telling my own story at the beginning — the bit about the unsupportive principal. It's very similar at any rate.

    I really deliberated (more than usual) before I posted this entry, because I was unsure how it would be received. Teachers can be prickly about things like this. However, I have pleasantly surprised to find so many of you agree.

    Mrs. L., I will be sure to pass on your P.S. to my husband. He would be excited to hear about that. He actually has a writing job with Court TV's Crime Library that he earned because of his blog. It's exciting.

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